HARPSWELL — After a three-year battle, residents fighting to save public access to Cedar Beach are celebrating a victory in Maine Superior Court even as they face a new challenge.

The attorney representing the defendant in the case said the ruling will be appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Cedar Beach, located on Bailey Island, had been used by the public for decades until 2011, when the only access road was blocked by owners Charles and Sally Abrahamson.

After multiple attempts at negotiating access, a lawsuit was brought against the owners. Since then the land has been sold to Betsy Atkins, who also denied access to the road.

In a 73-page decision by Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills on Monday, the public was granted a prescriptive easement over Cedar Beach Road, restoring public access. Prescriptive easement means the public has effectively earned the right to use the road because of uninterrupted public access over decades, the ruling says.

“This is an important step,” David Bertoni, the attorney representing the Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters group in the case, said Monday. “Obviously, the folks on Bailey Island are grateful, as are we. This is something that is not easy to obtain.”

The citizens group already had won a legal battle for the public’s right to be on the beach, but until Monday’s decision, the only way to get to it was by boat or air.

“I know people who took their first swim on that beach, and their fathers and mothers did, and their parents, and their grandparents,” Bertoni said.

Atkins, who has a home near the Harpswell beach and a home in Coral Gables, Fla., could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

But Christian T. Chandler of the Portland law firm of Curtis Thaxter Attorneys at Law said Wednesday night that he will file an appeal of Mills’ decision with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on behalf of Gables Real Estate LLC.

“We believe the court made a number of legal errors and do plan on appealing the decision to the Maine Supreme Court,” he said in an email. “This decision calls into question many fundamental principles concerning the ability of anyone who holds an interest in land to protect that interest.”

The decision listed Atkins as the owner of Gables Real Estate LLC and said she lives in Maine five months a year.

Mike Helfgott, the Cedar Beach group’s president, was elated by news of Mills’ decision.

“I’m still floating on air,” he said. “I stayed up because the emails started coming in.”

Bertoni was confident the 73-page decision will be upheldl.

“Traditionally, it’s hard to reverse a case that’s so fact-intensive and so well-written,” Bertoni said. “We take it one step at a time. This entire situation is a bit of a chess game. There are lots of pieces in motion.

“It was clear that we had a judge that was paying attention, and wanted to do something carefully.”

Chandler had a different view.

“We believe the trial court’s decision significantly deviated from the established law in Maine, which enables a property owner to prevent the unwarranted establishment of a public easement over his or her property,” he said.

For now, at least, those fighting for public access to the beach have cause to celebrate.

“There’s something special about having a family lineage connected to a place. It’s rare, it doesn’t happen in many places, but it does happen in Maine on the coast,” said Bertoni. “This is a long lineage of families in one place, and it’s good to be able to preserve that.”

Portland Press Herald Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

Chris Chase can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: cchaseCJ


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